NR EAST & ASIAN M20 – Section 1H
Professor Robert K. Englund
May 22nd 2013
Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, or so-called LACMA, is one of the most prominent museums the US, having numerous historical artifacts in its possession. In LACMA, what seizes people’s attention the most are 10 feet tall reliefs of Assyrian kings and gods, covered with texts inscribed in cuneiform. The royal Neo-Assyrian relief found in Nimrud, the capital city of ancient Assyrian Empire, reveals that cuneiform was widely used as a medium of propaganda, sometimes over its function as a record of information. The texts in the royal Assyrian reliefs are written in Akkadian cuneiform. Invented in the Fertile Crescent region, cuneiform is inarguably the most ancient writing system ever known in human history. The writing system originates from relatively simple signs that were presumably coined around 3300B.C. for accounting purpose. Along with the development of civilization, economic productivity in the Fertile Crescent increased exponentially, leading to the expansion of trade even beyond the Mesopotamian region. First inscribed on clay tokens, the seemingly pictographic signs got to be written in more improved medium such as bullae and finally clay tablet that can harbor more complicated information. Also Cuneiform adapted to more progressive structures that later turns into syllabic and eventually alphabetic writing system. The cuneiform was first used by Sumerians, and then it wide spread throughout the region and was later adopted by numerous ethnic groups headed by Babylonians and Assyrians. The adaptation process created Akkadian cuneiform which is basically distinct from its predecessor. From 10th to 7th century B.C., after Assyrians survived from the invasion of the Sea People which is barely recorded nor preserved in oral transmission, they rapidly expanded their realm and established the empire. According to Albenda, Assyrians were brutal warriors armed with advanced chariot which made them formidable in the Middle East (46). “The need to maintain the Assyrian army resulted in a series of forays against neighboring communities, and these ventures were countered by attacks, which, if we are correct in our belief, are illustrated on the Assyrian bas-reliefs originally located above the scene of the besieged city.”(Albenda, 46) As a result of continual series of conquest, the Assyrians were known to be infamous rulers, which partly was what they aimed to be. The empire prospered along with the expansion. The royal palace in Nimroud, built by a renowned Assyrian emperor, Ashur-nasir-pal II, still reflects the prosperity of the empire. The royal reliefs were excavated from the palace in Nimroud, also known as its biblical name Calah. These were made around 860B.C., at the pinnacle. However, the prosperity did not last forever, and the palace was buried under sand after the fall of the empire. “With the fall of Assyria in 612 B.C., the palace fell into ruins and became completely covered with earth and overgrown. It lay forgotten for 2,500 years, until it was rediscovered by a young British adventurer, Austen Henry Layard, in 1846” (Russell, 655). Layard excavated the ruins of Babylon, ancient cities of southern Mesopotamia, and lastly the imperial capital of Ashurbanipal in the north of Bagdad. He was credited not only for his ability as a diplomat but also for his understanding on the Middle Eastern culture. The Assyrian relief excavated in royal palace of Ashur-nasir-pal II features salient characteristics of both the writing system and the society it was inscribed. First of all, the texts in the reliefs in Nimroud were written in Akkadian language, using logo-syllabic cuneiform signs. Akkadian language is the earliest Semitic language currently known, and it shares significant features with modern day Semitic languages, such as Arabic or Hebrew. Huehnergard and Woods note that the Akkadian grammar system...
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